Rarely do movie franchises make it to a fourth film. Even rarer are the fourth films that are actually good.
Transformers: Age of Extinction—regardless of what critics may say—is one of those rarities.
Five years after the Battle of Chicago, the Autobots are on the run from a distrustful government and a Decepticon bounty hunter. Outnumbered, they ally themselves with a down-on-his luck inventor in a desperate attempt to keep another deadly device out of enemy hands.
Of all the Transformers films, this is, strangely enough, the least Michael Bay-esque of them all. There are no “stupid jokes” that pervaded Revenge of the Fallen, which left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths. In fact, Age of Extinction is easily the darkest film of the franchise. There are a few “objectifying-women” shots, but only early on. There’s plenty of loud explosions and intense action, but this movie is also the most story-/character-driven film of the franchise. The only “crazy and quirky character” in the film dies 45-60 minutes in, and he’s rarely obnoxious.
In other words, Bay leaves the franchise—he claims this is the last time he will direct a Transformers movie—with a film that seems slightly atypical of his style. For many people, this will be a welcome change.
Much is crammed into this movie, which runs nearly three hours. Like Bay’s first Transformers, this story follows several groups of characters and subplots. There are nefarious government agents (including Kelsey Grammer), an eccentric technology tycoon, and, of course, the warring robots. The heart of the film, however, is the new hero, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a single dad with a rambunctious 17-year-old daughter. He’s also an amateur inventor looking for a get-rich-quick breakthrough. He bites off more than he can chew when he buys a rusty old semi-truck. He then discovers his daughter has a secret 20-year-old boyfriend, who joins them on their crusade with the Autobots. Their conflict keeps the fantastical plot grounded in reality. Cade is a well-meaning father trying to keep his daughter from making the same mistakes he did before, but he hasn’t quite seen that his daughter is smart and asserting independence.
All of this makes for a much less juvenile story. There is still a teenage romance; however, it’s not the focal point. Cade is likely where many 30-somethings who grew up enjoying Transformers as ‘80s kids find themselves. He’s head and shoulders above Sam Witwicky’s parents, and their harrowing adventure allows for Cade and his daughter to reconcile.
The robot cast is almost entirely new. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee are the only returning Autobots; Megatron sort of returns in the form of Galvatron, a manmade Transformer (an origin different from the source material); and Peter Cullen gives a great performance as usual in creating Prime’s iconic voice. New characters include Hound, a metal stogie-smoking military truck who serves as Ironhide’s replacement; and Lockdown, a Decepticon bounty hunter who is the film’s villain. The latter is a welcome change from the megalomaniacal villains of previous films. Lockdown is as cold as his chassis and as calculating as a supercomputer.
As for the much-hyped Dinobots, they don’t appear until the last half-hour of the movie. Yes, fans have to wait for two-plus hours before seeing their favorite robo-saurians. Is it worth the wait? Yes and no. Their personalities are underdeveloped and they don’t speak in pidgin English, but they do some cool stuff during the climactic battle, so they aren’t wasted.
The script has a more saturated story, though it’s not as crowded as the franchise’s first film. Although, the latest film does leave a few questions unanswered: What have the Autobots been doing while on the run for five years? Why would Bumblebee leave Sam? What became of the humans who had contact with the Transformers? Some may see these as oversights, but I found myself wanting to know those stories. These untold tales made the world larger. Also, Lockdown mentions he was sent to retrieve Optimus by the latter’s “creators,” but who their identity is never revealed. Is it Primus, like in the comics? Or the Quintessons, like in the original cartoon?
ILM’s special effects are, as usual, top-notch in this film. The CGI robots’ interaction with the “real world,” particularly with the humans, are the best of the series. Lockdown has one of the most expressive, articulated faces of all the robots. Coupled with his voice, he has a strong on-screen presence. Sadly, several of the set pieces are recycled. Battles take place in both Chicago and Hong Kong, two cities utilized in previous films. The action is different, yes, but new environments would’ve been appreciated.
Finally, compared to Revenge of the Fallen, Age of Extinction is the least kid-friendly of the films. Not because of the off-color humor or graphic violence, but because of language, including one f-bomb (though it goes by fast). This is unfortunate since many kids will want to see this movie. It’s a movie based on a toy line, for crying out loud! Yes, it’s PG-13, but so are the family-friendly Marvel movies.
Bay has said this is the beginning of a new trilogy. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing more—which is saying something because I was mostly happy with how the third film ended. Now that the Dinobots have appeared, I can only think of one other character who could justify another sequel. And he’s literally a big one.
Will he appear? The groundwork might have been laid here, but only time will tell.
Final Grade: B